George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh were planning to collaborate for a seventh – count ’em, seven – time on The Man From U.N.C.L.E., a film adaptation of the popular NBC spy series that ran from 1964-1968.

Soderbergh is still moving ahead with the project, which is slated to begin production by about February 2012. However, it seems that Clooney won’t be headlining the flick after all.

Deadline has learned that Clooney is in the midst of withdrawing from… The Man From U.N.C.L.E., though the reason for his departure has yet to be revealed. It doesn’t seem all that likely that a scheduling conflict is the answer, though, seeing that the project is expected to be a fairly quick shoot, in customary Soderbergh style. Plus, the only immediate role that Clooney is signed on to tackle in the near future is a bit part in Gravity. However, he is loosely attached to other projects (like The Monster of Florence), one of which may account for his leaving.

The original Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series took place during the Cold War and revolved around two secret agents – Napoleon Solo (played by Robert Vaughn) and Illya Kuryakin (played by David McCallum) – who are employed by a secret government organization known as the United Network Command For Law and Enforcement (or U.N.C.L.E. for short). Their main opposition is an evil organization called Technological Hierarchy from the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity (T.H.R.U.S.H.), hell-bent on world domination.

Man From U.N.C.L.E. is being written by Scott Z. Burns, who was also responsible for The Bourne Ultimatum, both Soderbergh’s The Informant! and this year’s Contagion – not to mention, he is scripting David Fincher’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. It’s been speculated that the film (which may retain the 1960s setting of its inspiration) will fall somewhere between Soderbergh’s light-hearted Ocean’s Eleven trilogy and his more serious mainstream efforts – like next year’s gritty thriller, Haywire.

It’s possible that Man From U.N.C.L.E. has evolved into enough of a serious and hard-hitting spy action flick (a la the last two James Bond movies) that Clooney decided he was no longer a good fit for one of the lead roles. Or it could be another reason entirely. Either way, it looks like Soderbergh will have to move fast and find another star, if he still wants to make an early 2012 production start date.

We will keep you posted on the status of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. as more information is released.

Source: Deadline